Saturday, 26 March 2011

One Year Blogoversary (eek!)

Dear blog,
This is a very strange post to write, because it means that Books And The Universe is, as of today, one year old.
When I started blogging last year, I  didn't really contemplate the fact that I would still be doing it now, that I would be awake equally late, still rambling incessantly  talking about books, as much as life seems to be getting in the way that the moment. 

In which I make a number 1 out of some books. 

 I guess, most of all- Thank you, readers.  You're out there somewhere and you're awesome for putting up with me and listening.  The blogosphere is a winning place and huge fun to be a part of.  For one thing, it's always there when I can't sleep, and has opened me up to a whole other aspect of teenage fiction.  Without reading other blogs I probably would never have come across some of my favourite books.  Most of all, blogging  reminds me why I love reading.  Simple as.

I had better use this opportunity to ask- do you have any suggestions for the blog? Is there too much of something? Too little?  Et cetera.  I'll leave that to you.

Well, there you go.  I'm off to finish re-reading Notre-Dame de Paris now.  Over and out.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Review: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Dear Blog,
I know my blog has been kind of dead lately, and for that I'm sorry. Outside of string ensembles and guitar orchestras I don't really have a life, so you'd expect I would have plenty of time for blogging, but the rest of my free time seems to be sucked away by Goodreads and Ravelry  other bits and pieces that appear out of nowhere.

Summary (from Goodreads): Aspen Springs Psychiatric Hospital is a place for people who have played the ultimate endgame. The suicide attempt survivors portrayed in this novel tell starkly different stories, but these three embattled teens share a desperate need for a second chance. Ellen Hopkins, the author of Glass and Crank, presents another jarring, ultimately uplifting story about young people crawling back from a precipice.

Review: You should know this by now, dear blog; I cannot get enough of Ellen Hopkins' novels.  The four that I've read have been so intense and hard-hitting that I finish them feeling all exhilarated and shocked.
But be warned: they aren't for the faint-hearted.  They're full of contemporary issues that make you think that Melinda in Speak has it easy.  Impulse is no different. The story begins narrated by some unknown narrator; one of the characters, or someone else entirely, you don't know.  The first of the characters to be directly introduced is Conner, who has ended up in Aspen Springs after trying to shoot himself following the end of an affair with a teacher. Soon afterwards, Tony is introduced; before he came to Aspen Springs he was among other things living on the streets and selling his body for drugs. Last but not least, there's Vanessa- a cutter with a dark secret.  When the three of them meet, their lives change in ways they could never have expected.

I think it's kind of impossible to properly dislike any of the characters, with the situations they're in and how vividly their thoughts and actions come off the page. That doesn't mean, however, that I liked them. Conner, for instance, was a complete train wreck of a character who seemed to be having the hardest time of the three emotionally.  I would have disliked the idea of him, nay, I do.  A rich boy who allegedly has it all but is struggling under the surface seems to be done so often nowadays, and his relationships and attitudes towards the other characters didn't really make me warm to him either.  He was also the character that didn't change or develop at all throughout the novel.
But I couldn't really dislike him. I just felt sorry for him, I suppose, just experienced his emotions so vividly it was hard to be like, "Ugh, just be likeable." So much as  "Confront your parents. Tell them how you feel.  Just speak to somebody." 
 I wanted to slap his parents.  Oh, how I hated them *insert scowling gif here*. So, I must have wanted the best for him if I felt that way. 

Tony was probably the character that I found both most likeable and the one with the most interesting story to tell; but as with all the characters I had to kind of piece together his story; nothing was really revealed straight out.  He was witty, observant, kind; He deserved happiness and a relationship with Vanessa (though I don't think Vanessa deserved him, if that makes any sense). 
Speaking of Vanessa; I thought she fell somewhere between the two of them.  I found it pretty hard to really sympathise with her, mostly because her thoughts often felt like she was keeping the reader at a distance...almost cold, in a way.  But conversely, her actions, and her emotions, seemed vivid; like how she felt when things were "blue", for instance. 

As for plot; this is one of those books where there isn't really a very distinct storyline; It's very much  a character-driven novel.  The writing style was slightly confusing at times; the narrative shifts every three or four poems or so, and often the three voices weren't very distinct and I ended up being like, for example, "Wait, but, Vanessa's the narrator at the moment isn't she?  Hmm, maybe not." quite often.   Still, it's great poetry- or rather, verse.  It flows like poetry, but it isn't really- it's too unsettling, too clever, too unusual and clear to really fit in amongst another of the YA free-verse books I devour so.

This is one of those books where I can't really talk about the ending, because it's so...yeah.  It's more closed and more obvious a conclusion than, say, Burned; but  more shocking and sudden and aaaargh.  For some of the characters, things end well; for others things are worse than when they first entered the story. And the last sentence; for a lack of a better, more professional word: Omigod. It is the conclusion to all conclusions, the most powerful and final last couple of lines I've read for months, probably.  
It's a good thing, then, that a companion novel, Perfect, is coming out in the autumn. I can't wait for another installment set in that same world, where among other people Conner's twin sister Cara takes centre stage. We'll see.

In three words: haunting, dark, riveting.
Recommended for: Mature teenagers.
Rating: 4

Sunday, 13 March 2011

In My Mailbox 20

Dear blog,
Hosted as ever by Kristi of The Story Siren.
I haven't participated in IMM for about a month or so, which is mostly because I was trying to stick to my goal of getting through some of  the books that I -gasp- actually own, or at least get my to-read shelf on Goodreads down to 100 books. 
However, then I realised that I didn't actually own the majority of the books that were on aforementioned to-read shelf,  and this was a sufficient excuse to buy some of the books I had been after for ages.

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Eunoia by  Christian Bök (already read.  Quite extraordinary.)
This is All by Aidan Chambers
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Delirium by Lauren Oliver

So, that was my bookish week. What about yours?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Review: That Summer by Sarah Dessen

Dear Blog,

Summary (from Goodreads): For fifteen-year-old Haven, life is changing too quickly. She's nearly six feet tall, her father is getting remarried, and her sister,the always perfect Ashley,is planning a wedding of her own. Haven wishes things could just go back to the way they were. Then an old boyfriend of Ashley's reenters the picture, and through him, Haven sees the past for what it really was, and comes to grips with the future.

Review: I've been kind of ill on and off  over the last week or so, and Pride and Prejudice, which I'm currently reading, wasn't providing the sufficient sort of comfort reading that you need when you're ill.  So after re-reading all the Strawberry Marshmallow books two or three times each, I was like: "I know what I need!  Some Sarah Dessen will do the trick to cheer me up in a way that Elizabeth and Darcy's verbal sparring will not."  And I had That Summer on my bookcase, still unread, so, I read it.  And of course it provided sufficient easy reading.

This is Sarah Dessen's first novel, and was first published back in 1996.  Which means that you can't complain it being formulaic or repetitive, because the formula hadn't been set yet, even though to me it seems like I've read it before [which I haven't]. 
But for all the predictability, there is something refreshing about That Summer, and that's the fact that Haven herself isn't in a relationship. Certainly it might have been interesting if Haven and Sumner had gotten together; (one word: fanfic) but the five-year age gap and the fact that he's Ashley's ex would probably make things...a little awkward.
The story mostly revolves around love and marriage; but it pleased me that none of it was in fact Haven's, and that was entirely effective in making all the aspects of change and moving on all the more powerful. 

Speaking of Haven herself. How does Sarah Dessen do it?  How does she manage to write such convincing, entirely believable voices that have you instantly on the narrator's side? She writes with the wonder and concern of being fifteen and exposed to the big wide world, and the cool, reserved tone of adulthood, which works perfectly for some of her other protagonists, in particular Auden and Macy (Yes, that's my attempt at writing poetically  *awkward turtle*). 
I say that, but.  Every character has their flaws, every character has something that can find irritate the reader, and for me that was how Haven complained about her height on  every other page.  I'm 5'5", which isn't so bad for one of my age,  but height = a definite advantage.  For one thing, it means that you can reach the top shelves in Waterstones.

Haven's various friends and family reminded me a lot of Melinda's in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson,  mostly because I detested all of them at one stage or another.  They frustrated Haven so much; so naturally I wanted them to just stop getting married and take into consideration how she felt about everything. Even her best friend seemed so thoughtless and self-centred.
Sumner, however, was particularly fantastic.  He was crazy and upbeat and...his outlook on the universe was just what Haven needed at the time.  He was, in a word; fun. But not entirely without enough thoughtful, deep substance to make him likeable.  Nay, he seemed to have reasons for the way that he went about life; not just that he couldn't be bothered to conform.

Even though That Summer is very much about moving on and the future, there's a very nostalgic feel about it, for years and summers and loves gone by.  The combination of the two is so balanced, like one can't be experienced without the other. And so the book concludes; Haven  thinks back to when her family was complete, and forward to how it might be.  It was an entirely satisfying (and predictable), but just what I was after, and just how everything should have worked out. 

In three words: sufficient Sarah Dessen.
Recommended for: girls.
Rating: 4.